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On an international scale, New York City isn’t an especially old city, but in its history from the 17th century to today quite a lot has changed in its urban landscape. Old NYC, a project by software engineer Dan Vanderkam, launched last month with thousands of images from the New York Public Library (NYPL) mapped across the five boroughs.
Based on the NYPL’s 80,000 image collection Photographic Views of New York City, 1870s–1970s, Old NYC centers heavily on the 1920s to ’40s, with photographs by Percy Loomis Sperr. Vanderkam previously created an Old SF interactive map of photographs from the San Francisco Public Library, and Old NYC, created in collaboration with the NYPL, was an 18-month passion project.
Intersections are plotted with dots that pull up geotagged photographs along with captions captured with an optical scanner (thus there are some spelling errors which are being crowdsourced). Similar to digital mapping projects that utilize institutional data sets like Mapping Emotions in Victorian London from the Stanford Literary Lab or the NYPL’s own mapping projects of Brooklyn living rooms and Manhattan doors, it offers an accessible way to engage with an existing archive.
Old NYC is an excellent portal for just about any aspect of New York City history, with plenty of fun finds to stumble upon, such as whimsical 1930s Macy’s Thanksgiving parade balloons designed by Tony Sarg flying in Columbus Circle, a shadowy view below the old elevated train on the Bowery, and 1920s beachgoers at Coney Island. All of New York’s oldest museums are also present, from the Metropolitan Museum of Art to the American Museum of Natural History, with images from a time when top hats and bustles were not unusual attire for strolling the galleries. Below are some then-and-now comparisons of these museums via Old NYC.
Explore thousands of archive New York Public Library images at Old NYC.
Art by Athena LaTocha, Wendy Red Star, Marianne Nicolson, Anita Fields, Jaune Quick-to-See Smith & Neal Ambrose-Smith, and more is on view through January 2022.
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A donation of two hundred works includes Jean-Michel Basquiat, Robert Mapplethorpe, Keith Haring, and Donald Baechler.